Fragile States and the security council : the Lebanon case. Sovereignty before the State?

Josiane Tercinet, December 2009


  • State
  • fragile state
  • state power
  • the Security Council
  • international community
  • international security
  • Lebanon

Lebanon is an outstanding State, as well from an internal point of view as from an international one.

Its political structures, based on confessional communities ruled by clans, make a true democratic representation of the citizens very difficult; the norms are hardly elaborated and enforced because the public powers don’t control the entire territory; on the other hand, the freedom of expression, of press and demonstration is obvious.

From an international point of view, a State where the government can’t enforce law and order on all parts of the national territory is at worse a failed State, at least a failing one, not a “normal” one. Lebanon looks likes a partly failed State, in continuous convalescence, with recurrent periods of relapse. The index of failed States of the Fund for Peace shows it very well : the rank of Lebanon is very different from one year to another : from number 37 in 2005 (“warning” category), it improves to number 65 in 2006 (still “warning”) ; but the 33 days war of the summer in 2006 lowers it to number 28 (“warning”) in 2007, and even further down in 2008 to number 18 (“alert” category, which means a high risk of failure).

Lebanon, like Doctor House, often needs a crutch; sometimes, this crutch is somewhat imposed, and we think of Syria. When a sharp crisis occurs – a “relapse”- , looking like a conflict and even a war, the international community, through the Security Council (SC), is conducted to look after Lebanon. Now, from an international law point of view, the case of failed States is very hard to treat, since this law is based on the State, the Westphalian State and it is not easy to analyse the failing or failed States like Lebanon or Somalia through categories and concepts based on the State . This difficulty was very obvious in the papers written about the 33 days war of 2006 .

In this perspective, is the SC empowered to deal with fragile States? The SC has, according to article 24 of the United Nations(UN) Charter, “the main responsibility of peace keeping and international security”, but according to article 2 § 7, the UN cannot intervene in the affairs belonging to the national competence of a State. So, the UN and the SC take care of a subject only when the question is “internationalised”, i.e. when peace and international security could be threatened (chapter VI) or actually are threatened (chapter VII). In the first case (chapter VI), the SC can only adopt recommendations; in the second one, it has the choice between recommendation and decision (i.e., a compulsory act, which may be an economic or political measure or a military one). The SC action towards a fragile State depends thus on the existence of a threat to international peace, which is more likely to arise from a failing State than from a “normal” one. So, it is not surprising to see that Lebanon is often targeted by SC resolutions, especially during the five past years, when it appeared that both Syria’s and Hezbollah’s activities and influence became a subject of concern in Lebanon, nearly fifteen years after the end of the civil war.

The SC adopted four key resolutions relevant to analyse the impact of the international community –personified by the SC- towards a fragile State, with the purpose to help this State to recover and to regain the efficiency of its power.

Until 2004, the resolutions related to Lebanon are rather “soft”: tireless, especially in the texts related to the UNIFIL, since the Resolution 425 (1978, March 19), we can find the formula saying that the SC “reiterates its strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognised borders”, which shows that these requirements are not respected. From autumn 2004, the cracks increase : a constitutional reform in the purpose to extend the President’s mandate is imposed from outside (Syria) and the militias go on undermining State authority. On 14 February 2005, the former Prime minister Rafic Hariri was assassinated; terrorist attacks, political assassinations increased, and the national justice seemed paralysed. After that came the 33-day war of summer 2006 : an intervention of a foreign army (Israel) against Hezbollah’s militia, and not against the national army.

This leads the SC to adopt very special resolutions to deal with this special situation:

  • the Resolution 1559 (2004, September 2) related to foreign armed forces, Lebanese and non Lebanese militia and to the elaboration of constitutional rules without external interference;

  • the Resolution 1595 (2005, April 7) creating an international and independent investigation Commission (“the Commission”) on the Hariri’s assassination

  • the Resolution 1701 (2006, August 11) establishing the UNIFIL II (or reinforced UNIFIL)

  • the 1757 Resolution (2007, May 30) deciding the coming into force on 10 June 2007 of the agreement creating the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, attached to the resolution.

All these resolutions have been drawn up by Western countries, especially France and United States, but they obtained no negative vote ; 6 members abstained on the 1559 and 5 on the 1757, among them 2 permanent members (China and Russia) but no one used its veto. This means that some members of the international community could be somewhat reluctant but not opposed towards these texts and this is very important: no one could say that these texts are illegal or illegitimate. They have been adopted in accordance with the UN Charter, and it is possible to establish a link with the threat to the international peace in each case, even if some of these texts are related to the national competence of Lebanon. Does this mean that Lebanon is handled trough these resolutions by the international community, being a small and fragile State? At a first glance, we could say : yes! But a study of these texts and of the preparatory works shows that they have been used by Lebanon in the purpose to put forward its sovereignty and, in the SC, it uses its sovereignty as a rampart, a bulwark and as an argument to say : I am a State, a true one and I can formulate some requirements.


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The full article can be found in the publication “Rethinking these Foundations of the State” (forthcoming 2010)